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Building Teamwork Means Keeping Promises

June 10, 1997|GARY IZUMO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gary Izumo is an instructor in the Moorpark College business department and has managed his own consulting practice. He is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and practice leader for the strategic management consulting practice of Price Waterhouse

Business is people, and people count. We believe in the importance and potential of people. Yet in terms of keeping promises, I have been wondering why we might not have a uniformly high expectation for both managers and employees.

I am not talking about huge commitments, although these promises are clearly important. I am talking about the everyday promises that help build and sustain trust.

For example, we all make commitments to do something or to be at a place at a certain time. These commitments can take the form of simply faxing a letter, getting to work on time or showing up for a lunch that we schedule with a prospective customer.

When the commitment does not occur as agreed upon, how do we feel?

If the missed commitment turns out to be a misunderstanding, a rare occurrence, or did not result in significant consequences, we might not be bothered at all.

However if missed commitments are more the norm, or if there are patterns of missed commitments, we begin to wonder. Trust and respect, if not performance expectations, are harmed.

Big promises are important, but so are the everyday little ones. Even if our huge commitments are kept, trust cannot flourish if the small ones are not kept in a consistent manner.

Clearly such factors as talent, experience and skills are critical for job performance and career success. Yet you do not have to be the most talented, experienced or skilled person to be a success. Keeping your promises (and having the right attitude) is vital for career success.

Beyond trust, think about the other words that might describe those who keep their promises--integrity, respect, motivation, results, loyalty.

These are strong, powerful words that characterize people we would like to know. People that we would like to work with. People we would like to be.

You might be thinking this is rather elementary, and it is. However, keeping a promise is one of those concepts that is very easy to understand but difficult to consistently do.

Do you have a friend or colleague who you can count on to keep his or her commitments? Do you have a "go-to" employee that you give assignments that have to be done right and on time?

Why isn't the search for reliable people easier? Why is it like a breath of fresh air when you find someone who will make a promise and keep it?

Because keeping promises is not easy to do.

A number of factors make the "doing" of keeping promises difficult: the varied and growing demands that we face at work and at home, unclear work priorities or uncontrollable and unknown elements in the tasks we need to accomplish.

Promises are implicit as well as explicit. Because everything is not controllable or fully known and as a result, we have an implicit promise to communicate in a timely manner the inevitable surprises of work and life.

When working on a team, we make a number of implicit, if not explicit, promises: to return phone calls in a timely manner, to not only carry our own load but also to seek out and support team members that need help, and to treat each other with respect.

We hear about the importance of teamwork, empowerment and leadership. We want to rebuild trust and loyalty, and we wonder where we might start or how we might better do this.

A good starting point, a building block, is keeping promises.

How can there be trust or loyalty when promises are not kept? How can we expect to have effective teams, and not simply collections of employees operating in work groups, when promises are not kept? How can employees believe in empowerment or managers believe they can delegate authority when promises are not kept?

Keeping promises is work. There is a price to be paid in terms of effort, inconvenience and concentration. We need to think about the implicit promises as well as the explicit ones. We need to understand that surprises will happen and that with surprises, we must be willing to make the effort to communicate, even if it is unpleasant or inconvenient.

Promises that we keep will support and build trust, while promises not kept damage our efforts. Each promise is a building block for trust. Each one is important. They accumulate, and trust grows.

We can do better. Let's work together in this effort, manager and employee. Let's fulfill organizational and career potentials. Let's keep our promises, big and small.

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